Monthly Archives: August 2014

Human Rights Begin At Home – Now With Extra Brutality

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

We as a country have portrayed ourselves as moral compasses on the international stage for years. We’re among the first to decry what we consider tyranny, and we take an almost gleeful interest in being horrified over what the world perceives as human rights violations. We claim to occupy the moral high ground – but events say otherwise.

For the second time in two months, the United Nations has issued a report calling out the U.S. for human rights violations here at home. The first time was in June, when the U.N. Human Rights Council said that the city of Detroit was in violation of international human rights law by shutting off water and sewer services to thousands of households.

On Friday, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) released a report condemning the U.S. for failure to fully comply with its obligations under the  International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Noureddine Amir, an Algerian expert and CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing

“The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown. This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”

He also said: “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing.”

The committee’s report stated that “Stand Your Ground” laws should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense.” It went on to say

“The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police.” 

Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union said that the report highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth… When it comes to human rights, the United States must practice at home what it preaches abroad.”

I thought we were better than this…

 

 

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Fly Like A Stegall

Sam Brownback. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Sam Brownback. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Sam Brownback’s re-election campaign is in big trouble. Elected as Kansas’s governor in 2010, his fiscal policies should sound familiar to all of us – cut taxes on the wealthy and businesses, raise sales taxes, fees and property taxes (which hit poor and middle income families disproportionately), and slash state education and government services’ budgets. This in turn has led to unprecedented deficit spending, depleted balances, soaring debt and downgraded credit, as well as lagging economic growth.  

So, the chances are pretty good that Brownback won’t be re-elected, and that at least some of his policies will be overturned. In fact, over 100 centrist Republicans have publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent. So what’s a good religious (as a Senator, Brownback lived at the C street house made infamous by the John Ensign scandal), conservative nutcase supposed to do to leave a lasting legacy in Kansas? Why, stack the courts, of course!

Enter Caleb Stegall. Caleb’s been considered as an up-and-comer on the religious right for over ten years. He’s had a rather interesting career as an attorney, representing at various times the Kansas Republican Party, former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline and Kansas’s favorite astroturf group, Charles and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity. In 2009, he ran for Jefferson County District Attorney and won. In 2011, Brownback named Stegall as Chief Counsel to the Governor of Kansas, and appointed him to the Kansas Court of Appeals last year

Yesterday, in a move that surprised nobody at all, Brownback appointed Stegall to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court. Though Brownback claimed that Stegall didn’t have an inside track, we have to question his statement, considering that the two other candidates had fifteen and twenty years experience in the Court of Appeals respectively, compared to Stegall’s one year.

We also have to wonder about Stegall’s ability to remain impartial on the bench, as he’s been known to utter gems like this excerpt from a 2005 interview with the website GodSpy:

It is true that liberalism – which is really the engine of modernism – as an ordering principle is tremendously powerful, and now has the inertia of centuries driving it forward still, but it has some significant weaknesses, chief among them that it lies. It lies about the human condition and it lies about the reality of natural limits embedded in reality. Human freedom and consumption simply cannot expand infinitely. Eventually, the structures supporting such expansion will give way, and it remains to be seen what, if any, civilizing forces will be left to bring order out of that chaos.”

Erin Larson, a lawyer based in Mission, stated her reservations about his impartiality:

“I think the concern is the Kansas Judicial Branch has such a great tradition of being independent and really bringing a common sense balance to the other branches of government. And when you have somebody with that ideology it is concerning,”

Then, there’s how long he could serve. Stegall is 43; by Kansas law, he can sit on the bench until he’s 75. That’s 32 years – long enough to do serious damage by anyone’s standards. Hopefully, the good people of Kansas will elect enough sane people to office in the upcoming years to minimize his effect.

 

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Ardor For Arthur- The Sequel

Market Basket's flagship store in Chelsea, MA. Photo by Cybah (own work), public domain.

Market Basket’s flagship store in Chelsea, MA. Photo by Cybah (own work), public domain.

Last month, we wrote about the Demoulas cousins and Market Basket, a chain of 71 supermarkets in the Northeast. We told how both employees and customers protested the firing of Arthur T. Demoulas by the Market Basket board of directors. The reason for the firing? The board, led by Arthur S. Demoulas, thought that Arthur T. spent too much on the employees instead of maximizing profits for the shareholders.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Arthur T. would buy the 50.5 percent of the company owned by Arthur S. and his supporters for $1.5 billion, thus ending the six week strike/boycott that had essentially shut down the company. On Thursday, the warehouse workers, store employees and management who’d been out on strike went back to work, and the customers started coming back.

Lauren Stiller Rikleen wrote an excellent piece for Next Avenue calling the Market Basket strikes and protests an example of boomer activism. She pointed out that many of the people involved were people who’d been with the company for years, and that they had everything to lose in this situation, but that they went ahead and made a stand based on principle, and not for any immediate gain for themselves

Occupy World Writes congratulates Arthur T. Demoulas and Market Basket employees for prevailing over a board that was more concerned with short term stockholder profit than the employees’ welfare. We’ve learned from your example that when we stand united for a common cause, we can and will prevail. We know that the business has taken a big hit over the last six weeks; we hope for a speedy recovery.

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Not So Peachy In Georgia

Main Street of East Point, Georgia. Photo by Thomson200 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Main Street of East Point, Georgia. Photo by Thomson200 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Over the last year, there’s been a constant stream of incidents in the national news of police perpetuating violence on the communities and people they’re supposed to protect and serve. From Texas state troopers performing cavity searches by the side of the road and the Albuquerque police’s constant civil rights violations to the more recent examples of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, hardly a day goes by where we don’t hear of a new case of police overreach, and often with fatal results.

Yesterday, the story of Gregory Towns made the national news. On April 11, Towns’ girlfriend called the East Point, Georgia police and reported a domestic disturbance. After a foot chase involving Towns and the police, the police then “drive-stunned” Towns with Tasers in an effort to get him up and walking, essentially using the Tasers like cattle prods.

According to Taser logs, former Cpl. Howard Weems pulled the trigger on his Taser four times for a total of 27 seconds, and former Sgt. Marcus Eberhart at least ten times for a total of 47 seconds. However, the police reports filed by Weems and Eberhardt claimed that their Tasers were only used six times on the handcuffed Towns, including one time when he was wet and sitting in a creek.

Towns died after the Tasering. The medical examiner stated in his report that “physical exertion and conducted electrical stimulation” contributed to his death. The lawyer for Weems claims that it was Towns’ medical problems that caused his death, and not the Tasering.

Ten days ago, the East Point police chief suddenly resigned from office with any advance notice. Woodrow Blue said in his resignation letter that he was stepping away for “personal reasons,” and not for any reason having to do with the Towns case.

We’d like to think that such abuse is a new aberration, but we know it isn’t. Police brutality and overreach has been going on for as long as we can remember. We feel that the supposed spike in cases that we’re seeing is more due to public awareness and that almost everybody carries a phone with them, thus having a way to record the events.

Occupy World Writes calls for our government to step up and do the right thing – to stop arming local police with military hardware, and to pass a federal law stating that police must wear body cameras when on duty. We recognize that most police are good people who do an essential job that most of us could never do. However, there are out of control officers and departments across the country; it’s time they were held accountable for their actions.

1984 was not intended to be an instruction manual…

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Peace of Rubble

No seaport, no airport, but at least an easing (not a lifting) of trade and travel restrictions were basic terms agreed to in the latest peace talks between Gaza and Israel. “Hundreds of Gazans gathered at an intersection in Gaza City on Tuesday to celebrate an “unlimited” ceasefire agreement reached between Israel and Hamas. The Egyptian-brokered deal went into effect at 7 p.m. local time (noon ET), and provides for an immediate opening of Israeli border crossings to aid and reconstruction supplies,” NBC reports.

But it is not over. Not by a long shot.

Gaza 2014. Photo via Facebook

Gaza 2014. Photo via Facebook

42-year old Gazan journalist Ayman al Aloul knows how to tell a story. “I have to do something and to send a message all over the world about Gaza,” he said. He started the so-called Rubble Bucket Challenge on Saturday. By Monday morning, nearly 2,000 had liked the Rubble Bucket Challenge page on FaceBook.

According to a report from NBC, “It came to my mind that it’s good idea to show the whole picture – how Gaza looks now, rubble, destruction, cement with sand, small rocks,” Aloul said. Other hashtags doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter included #dustbucketchallenge and #remainsbucketchallenge.

The challenge emulates the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but done with resources available in Gaza. If you can find water in Gaza, there is no electricity with which to freeze it into ice. Some of Aloul’s friends suggested that he use either a bucket of blood or shrapnel. Knowing these items were more difficult to come by outside of Gaza, he chose the rubble from the destruction.

Occupy World Writes encourages you to accept this challenge and to pass it to everyone you know. We also believe that this Rubble Bucket Challenge should continue not only until PEACE is achieved amidst this crisis, but also until Gaza has been rebuilt. Until Gazans can look to a future with education, basic human needs and rights, economic security and the freedom to welcome a peaceful future, this crisis is not over.

 

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The Austerity Blues – French Edition

François Hollande. Photo by Jean-Marc Ayrault - Flickr:  Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

François Hollande. Photo by Jean-Marc Ayrault – Flickr: Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Today in the United States media, the stories that sucked up all the oxygen involved either Ferguson or the Islamic State. While both of these stories are newsworthy and deserve to be covered, there’s a lot of other things happening that affect us all that get overlooked by the media in their rush to cover the splashy story. And, when one of these overlooked stories involve Europe’s second biggest economy, it worries us.

Yesterday, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls presented his government’s resignation to President François Hollande, after the economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, had called for an end to the austerity policies imposed by Germany. In an interview Montebourg had given to Le Monde on Saturday, he said;

“The priority must be exiting the crisis, and the dogmatic reduction of deficits should come after,”  insisting that the austerity policies had gone too far. He went on to criticize Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “Germany is caught in a trap of austerity that it is imposing across Europe.”

He then spoke at a Socialist party rally on Sunday, saying: “”France is a free country which shouldn’t be aligning itself with the obsessions of the German right,” and urging a “just and sane resistance.”

In what should sound familiar to all of us, the austerity policies implemented by the French government has led to very slow economic growth. President Hollande said in an interview in Le Monde last week that France will no longer try to meet a deficit reduction target this year, and may fall behind on deficit reduction next year as he wants to put in place 50 billion euros worth of spending cuts he has already pledged to make through 2017.

However, Valis will be in charge of putting together the new government. And. he’s pledged to stick to a cut deficits/lower business taxes path; one that doesn’t sit well with the more left-leaning of the majority Socialist party. And, on the right, the National Front, an ultra-conservative nationalist party, is making inroads on the center-right UMP. The parallels to politics here in the U.S. are fairly evident, we think.

The new government’s supposed to be named today. The real question is whether Valis can form a new government that meets the national assembly’s approval. Constitutional expert Dominique Rousseau told Libération that “”We can’t rule out the government being thrown out by a majority in parliament, and the president would have to envisage a dissolution of the assembly. The crisis is not over, it’s just beginning.”

Occupy World Writes calls for the end of the austerity programs going on both here and abroad. If nothing else, the last five years have taught us all that you can’t make serious budget cuts and reduce the tax base revenue and at the same time still expect to see a substantial recovery.

 

 

 

 

 

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Independence, Ukrainian-Style

Ukrainian flags. Photo uploaded by Vladimir Yaitskiy (Flickr: Ukrainian flags) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ukrainian flags. Photo uploaded by Vladimir Yaitskiy (Flick:) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On January 8, we published “Honor and Dignity,” a story that noted the difference in the observance of Iraq’s Army Day between the bulk of Iraq and those within Kurdistan, the later of whom observed the losses to the Peshmerga forces suffered while under the rule of Saddam Hussein.

Today, we again observe a country caught between very opposing views as we mark the 23rd anniversary of Ukraine’s independence. No one can argue their first couple of decades have been challenging.

On Sunday, August 24, thousands gathered in Kiev as a festive atmosphere, designed to boost morale, filled the air. Parades of new military hardware, uniformed soldiers and artists adorned in traditional parade attire were cheered from crowds waving Ukrainian flags and shouting “Glory to Ukraine” and “Death to enemies.” President Poroshenko addressed the crowds, promising a $3 billion dollar investment to modernize and equip Ukraine’s military forces.

Meanwhile, according to a report in The Guardian, “In Donetsk, where the suburbs of the city continue to be subjected to heavy shelling on a nightly basis, separatist fighters organised their own parade as a riposte to Kiev, displaying destroyed Ukrainian military hardware in a central square and forcing captured Ukrainian soldiers to march through the centre of the city at gunpoint. Around 60 dejected looking prisoners were made to take part, as the crowd screamed “Fascists!” at them. A municipal cleaning vehicle tailed them, washing down the streets where they had walked to “cleanse” them.”

These activities follows Saturday’s action of Russia pulling the trucks in their “humanitarian aid convoy” back across the Russian border. The convoy was delayed at the border for over a week while “discussions” about the contents and inspection of the trucks were waged. Russia had decided to move the trucks toward Luhansk despite lacking Ukraine’s authority to cross the border, resulting in Ukraine declaring the convoy an invasion. Russia has continued to build troops and military equipment in larger and larger areas within a stone’s throw of the eastern border of Ukraine.

President Putin has always told the world what he is doing – by making statements of what he is not doing. When he invaded the Crimea, he did so by telling us he would only protect “pro-Russian civilians” while planning to take the jewel of the Black Sea the entire time. When he invaded Georgia, he did so by saying he would only do so to protect “pro-Russian civilians,” and decided to stay. We think he has worn out his welcome in all places of aggression he has exerted on the borders of sovereign states that surround his country.

We congratulate Ukraine in the celebration of 23 years of independence. The people of Ukraine deserve to make their path forward as a people without the influence of “pro-Russian separatist” that are suspect of crossing the border to wage their “pro-Russian” agenda on a people who have previously had no reason to reject this portion of their historical and ethnic past.

 

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We’re In Really Hot Water

Velella velella on a beach. Photo from Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.

Velella velella on a beach. Photo from Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.

We have yet to explore 95% of our world oceans.

Researchers continue to gain understanding as technology and improved equipment allows them to boldly go where no one has gone before. This week, a new study was released in Climatewire and reprinted by Scientific American, that revealed astonishing information about how the oceans are absorbing – and hiding – the heat from global warming.

As the oceans absorb heat in the Atlantic and southern oceans, the heat is absorbed in the salt of the water. As the water travels to the arctic, this layer of heated salt sinks when  it meets the cold arctic waters. As a result, our oceans don’t cool, they store heat and expel it over decades of cycles. As global warming increases, these patterns will become more difficult for the earth’s natural cycles to control.

But that’s not all that worries us. We also have recently learned through research off the west coast of the United States that human-ocean acidification has reached a level that now endangers shellfish.

Oysters take three years to grow to a marketable size. As CO2 is absorbed in water at a rate 10 times faster than in any other medium, carbon dioxide is changing the ph balance of the ocean’s water. Shell fish like oysters, scallops and mussels need calcium and carbonate to develop and grow their shells.  Shells can’t form when acidification of the water takes place.

The bulk of the world’s population is located near coastlines. This is because our oceans have always provided humanity with what seems to be an unlimited food source. What will we as a human race do once the oceans are no longer able to support the food chain that provides for the species we consume?

For the last several weeks, west coast adventurers in the US have been photographing Velella velella, or “by-the-wind sailors,” the silver-purple sea creatures that vaguely resemble jellyfish which are typically found well out in the ocean. They are washing up on the beaches from Washington state to southern California. Some experts tell us there is nothing to be concerned about; they blew in with the wind.

If that were true, why have we not seen them every time there is a west wind blowing for any amount of time? Are we to believe there is no connection between ocean acidification, rising temperatures and the dying of species we have not even fully studied yet?

But you can sleep well, knowing there will be no shocking news tomorrow from the Science world in America. Our congress has decided we should not fund any research that supports or studies global warming or climate change. We can save that money and keep our heads buried in the sand on the beach, while dead species wash up around us.

Beach party, any one?

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Perry On, My Wayward Son

Rick Perry's mugshot. Photo Travis County Sheriff's Office

Rick Perry’s mugshot. Photo Travis County Sheriff’s Office

There’s a lot of entertaining politicians occupying the right side of the political spectrum. And, quite a few of them come from one of our favorite states to write about; the great state of Texas. They run the gamut from crazy (Louie Gohmert) to obnoxious (Steve Stockman) to out and out frightening (Ted Cruz. Don’t ever write Ted Cruz off as just another crazy fool; he knows exactly what he’s doing).

Somewhere in the middle on the crazy to psychotic scale is one of our favorites – James Richard “Rick” Perry, occasional presidential candidate and governor of Texas for the last sixteen years. Famous for not remembering which three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate during the 2012 GOP presidential debates, for bringing fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters to a really offensively named hunting camp and for executing over 250 people since he became governor, among other things. Rick has a natural talent for making the news, and usually not in a good way.

Last week on Friday, Rick was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. The charges stem from the arrest of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg on DWI charges. Lehmberg, as part of her role as Travis County District Attorney was also the head of the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes public corruption and malfeasance. Perry called for her to resign, or else he would veto funding for the Unit. She didn’t resign, and he vetoed the funding. Now, as Texas allows line item vetoes by the governor, this should be fine, right? Not quite…

You see, the Public Integrity Unit was investigating Rick Perry himself at the time; namely one of his pet projects –  the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. And, if Lehmberg resigned, Perry would appoint a replacement. This would in all likelihood kill any investigation dealing with Perry. Travis County is a liberal island in red Texas, and Lehmberg was a Democrat- Perry would more than likely appoint a Republican.

Perry said he’d fight the case of course. On Tuesday, he appeared in an Austin courthouse to be booked and fingerprinted. On Wednesday, the Dallas Morning News ran a story naming two other cases where DAs were arrested for DWIs and Perry didn’t demand their resignations; in fact, he said nothing. And according to Progress Texas, there’s a third case; a former congressman who’s now chief legal council for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.  

What do these three have in common – that is, besides not incurring Perry’s wrath over their breach oi public trust? They’re all Republicans, and they aren’t investigating Rick Perry. I think I see a pattern here…

Then, on Thursday, a Perry spokesman said in an email that Perry would be using campaign funds to pay his defense lawyers. While I haven’t found anything yet in Texas law prohibiting this, I’m fairly sure that it’s illegal under federal law – which could make his preparing for a presidential run even more interesting. We’ve never had a candidate for president arrested during a debate before; it would make for great television.

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News You Might Have Missed – Pakistani Edition

Nawaz Sharif and Barack Obama 2013. By Office of the Press Secretary, US Federal Government via Wikimedia Commons

Nawaz Sharif and Barack Obama 2013. By Office of the Press Secretary, US Federal Government via Wikimedia Commons

Here in the United States, the news that has been front and center in the press and on television tends to be the flashy and/or graphic, such as the Ferguson protests, the Ebola outbreak and the Islamic State’s atrocities in Iraq and Syria; stories that are meant to grab the public’s attention. While all of these are important stories (and ones that we’ve discussed ourselves), there’s a lot of news that doesn’t get the coverage it deserves. One of those news items is what’s been happening in Pakistan as of late.

In June 2013, Nawaz Sharif was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, in what was hailed at the time as the first peaceful transition from one democratically elected government to another. This is actually Sharif’s third term as Prime Minister; he served two terms in the 1990s before being ousted in a coup (the usual transition method between governments in Pakistan). After being released from jail following the coup, he was exiled to Saudi Arabia, and returned to Pakistan in 2007.

However, the optimism following Sharif’s election has soured. First, he won some enemies in the military by bringing high treason charges against Pervez Musharraf, the general who unseated him during the coup and went on to rule Pakistan first as head of state from 1999 to 2001, and then as President from 2001 to 2008. Raza Rumi, a prominent Pakistani journalist and senior fellow at the Jinnah Institute, says; “As Sharif attempts to hold a general accountable, there is a backlash not just from the army but also the political segments that think of the military as the savior.”

Then, there’s the civilian opposition. Led by Imran Khan, a famous and charismatic cricket player who became a politician, and Tahir-ul-Qadri, a firebrand Canada-based cleric, the opposition is calling on Sharif to resign, citing corruption and election rigging as the grounds for the resignation. 

On Tuesday, thousands of anti-government protesters occupied the Red Zonea heavily fortified area that includes the parliament, government offices and diplomatic missions. Wednesday morning, protesters armed with sticks started guarding the entrances to many government buildings, saying that the buildings were under the control of demonstrators and that no one was allowed to enter or leave.

On Wednesday night, the two sides were engaged in discussions, but yesterday Khan pulled out of the talks, Khan’s party said it had presented six demands – which included the resignation of Sharif – for continuing the discussions with the government. On the other side, the Pakistani parliament called Khan’s demands unconstitutional.

The military is urging a negotiated settlement between Sharif’s government and the opposition. However, we can’t rule out the possibility of the military becoming more active, especially if Sharif starts taking a hard line with the protesters.

Ahmed Humayun, a South Asia fellow at the Atlantic Council, suggests one situation where the military would possibly act: “This will especially be the case if Sharif overreacts and law enforcement authorities exhibit excessive force against demonstrators, creating political fodder for Sharif’s opponents. In such an instance, the army may put pressure on Sharif to hold elections early — either later in 2014 or early in 2015. However, if Sharif does not oblige, then direct military intervention followed by the installation of a caretaker government is not out of the question.”

The U.S.’s relationship with Pakistan’s been up and down over the years. Once cultivated to be one of our best allies in the region due to its proximity to China, we used Pakistan (to be exact, the ISI – Pakistani military intelligence) to funnel money to the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. On the other side of the coin, we’ve launched numerous drone strikes on targets in Pakistan, as well as the raid that killed bin Laden; not exactly the way you’d treat an ally. 

Why is this important? A stable Pakistan is in the world’s best interests. Pakistan’s the only Islamic state with nuclear weapons for starters. Then, there’s the newly elected nationalist government in India. India and Pakistan have had issues between them since before Pakistan became an independent country; it was once part of India. And, India has nuclear weapons itself.

We hope that the situation resolves itself peacefully, and without intervention by the military. A democracy’s childhood/adolescence is often hard, with many challenges to be overcome. We believe in the people of Pakistan’s desire and ability to do exactly that.

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